On May 14, Israel celebrates 75 years of nationhood. Israel long enjoyed overwhelming support from American Jews, progressively stronger support from Washington and overlapping support from staunch liberals and conservative Christians. But the American left is now broadly anti-Israel. Yes, Israel has veered right in response to repeated invasion, a failed peace process with Palestinian leaders, incessant terrorism, economic stagnation under its old socialist model and genocidal hatred from the Arab world. But Israel, flourishing culturally and economically, remains a bastion of liberalism, while liberalism is losing the American left.

Israeli demonstrators block a highway in Tel Aviv on March 18 during a protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the country’s judicial system. The plans have sparked unprecedented protests in Israel over the past three months. Ohad Zwigenberg/Associated Press

“Liberal” and “leftist” are tricky words. Is Israel a liberal democracy? Do we ourselves support liberalism? Basically, liberalism is the Enlightenment method of inquiry, based on scrutiny, open debate and the twinned premises that objective truth exists and we’re never sure we possess it. Leftism is an ideology. It denies objective, transcendent truth. Leftism derives moral meaning from inherently oppressive class dynamics. Liberalism sees rights as primarily individual, leftism as collectivist. In leftism, it is immoral to risk siding with evident oppressors. Where all arguments under liberalism must be scrutinized and challenged, leftist propositions are taken as true insofar as they’re consistent with leftist ideology, while skepticism verges on immorality.

Until recently, American public discourse existed largely within the liberal spectrum. No longer. From the leftist perspective, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, like everything, good versus evil. Militarily strong Israel with its thriving capitalist economy, founded by “white colonizers” (not “subhuman” refugees facing annihilation) is self-evidently the oppressor against the poor, “Indigenous,” “brown” Palestinians (phenotypically indistinguishable from most Israelis). This narrative ignores much of history and present reality.

In her Feb. 14 Maine Voices, Kristen Salvatore made casual reference to the West Bank’s “Jewish-only roads,” “ethnic cleansing” of Masafer Yatta and a journalist’s “targeted assassination,” and extensively cited activist groups’ erroneous designation of Israel as an “apartheid” state, among other serious and tendentious libels. No scrutiny was applied, nor does it belong in leftist casuistry. In reality, not one millimeter of Jewish-only road exists. There are, in total, 40 kilometers of maximally sensitive road in the West Bank reserved for all Israeli citizens, including 2 million Palestinian-Israelis. Masafer Yatta, a remarkably barren district with semi-nomadic Bedouin camps, was requested by the Israeli Defense Forces through eminent domain as training grounds. The Israeli Supreme Court, with its Labor-appointed majority including Palestinian Justice Khaled Kabub, ruled unanimously for the IDF. Peaceful, compensated, judicially sanctioned eminent domain is not “ethnic cleansing.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department concluded the tragic death of al-Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh was accidental. Israel has never targeted anyone but known terrorist leaders for assassination, let alone a civilian, an American woman, a world-famous TV journalist. The accusation beggars belief, as does the refrain of “apartheid” Israel. There were no Black citizens in apartheid South Africa’s parliament and Supreme Court. No legal Black-run political parties and newspapers. No Black-run major banks or integrated surgical wards. No Black citizens commanding whites as high-ranking military officers. All such rights and opportunities exist for Arab-Israeli citizens, with full franchise, full rights, full benefits of world-class public health care and education. Their opportunities, quality of life and political rights outstrip those of their fellow Arabs or Muslims in the world’s 20-plus Arab countries and 50-plus majority Muslim countries, especially for women, LGBT people, dissidents, “apostates.” The “apartheid” claim implicitly denies all evidence and counter-argument. It’s an irrefutable articulation of faith.

Israel has challenges, without and within. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to render the aforementioned supreme court subservient to the legislature. Half a million Israelis are protesting, in a country of 9 million. Imagine 18 million Americans protesting Rep. Chellie Pingree’s bill to pack the Supreme Court, or, if you prefer, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s blocking of President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland. Israel is committed to liberal values. The new American left vilifies Israel and aligns with its extraordinarily illiberal enemies precisely because it has abandoned liberal values. Some of us remain committed to defending liberalism, and liberals can proudly support Israel.

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